WORDS: ANNE SCHAUFFER IMAGES: STEPHEN PILBROUGH & SUPPLIED
It’s never static. Whether it’s a new retail outlet, an eatery, a building emerging from the ground – or disappearing into it – there’s a sense of energy and purpose, unique to this stretch. One of its joys lies in its history and architectural heritage, which has converted so well into a contemporary mixed-use landscape – it’s a microcosm of a modern city, where work nudges home nudges entertainment, bigger isn’t better, and brave is best.
Jonny Friedman is CEO of Urban Lime, a commercial property regeneration group with a successful history of urban renewal abroad and in South Africa and owns around 25 buildings in Florida Road. He describes themselves as “catalytic” developers. “We look for areas which have the potential to be great, but have gone out of fashion. We buy in clusters of buildings to make a dramatic impact. One of our direct objectives is to transform areas – and the perception of them – both from a local and visitor’s point of view and by making it so good that others want to be part of it.” Jonny continues, “With private-sector urban regeneration changing the narrative about the city, the only way to make Florida Road stand out is with City intervention.” And that’s what’s happening. “There’s a scheme on the table, agreed to by the City, about various interventions to the streetscape and public areas, which will transform Florida Road from a good street, into a world-class one.”
From Jamieson and Mitchell Parks at the top of Florida Road, all the way down, an important goal is to increase the road’s walkability. Critical to the success of this, is the Florida Road Urban Improvement Precinct (UIP), where levies are paid by businesses for the UIP service, which includes security – vehicular, foot patrols and links to private patrols which manage local initiatives – cleaning and greening staff, communication between all members, general precinct management, and a branding initiative aimed at re-establishing Florida Road as a Durban icon.
There’s an overall vision both for the road and for specific sections of it. For example, below Gordon Road, travelling down, left hand side is largely nightlife. Above Gordon Road, left hand side, travelling up, is largely restaurants, eateries and bars. But there are plans for so much more, including additional retail, even an elegant piano bar and more fine dining. The concept of carving out interesting spaces in the back of buildings is gaining traction, and courtyards, retail outlets, squares and little lanes are being exposed and enjoyed.
There are a number of ageing residential apartment blocks along Florida Road, some of which have remained, others have been demolished to make way for new commercial property, and some of the heritage buildings exquisitely restored and repurposed, and rezoned.
Mixed use is at the core. Two such buildings at various stages of the building/approvals/sales process are Montpelier Square, a series of luxury apartments with panoramic sea and city views, and a strong architectural heritage element thanks to the vaulted Victorian reservoir; and 2six2 on Florida Road, a contemporary residential building, with retail, offices, fine dining and other enterprises on the lower levels.
Office space is key. Four of Urban Lime’s buildings have been converted into plug ‘n’ play offices, supplying around 100 spaces, with another 200 envisaged. They’re aimed at SMME and micro enterprises, with the simplest possible lease agreements, furnished or unfurnished, same day occupancy, and three straight rates for three different sizes, all with services. And they’ve been snapped up by the likes of entrepreneurs, creatives, and first business owners.
This stretch is rich in excellent education options, with government primary schools like Gordon Road Girls School, Durban Preparatory High School, and Livingstone Primary School within walking distance.
So, too, private schools, like Clifton College (preparatory and high) and Curro Heritage House (primary to high). Just up one or other hill, are Morningside Primary School and top girls’ private schools Durban Girl’s College and Maris Stella.
Public spaces are crucial to Florida Road, as they are to any successful urban regeneration project. The walkability of Florida Road refers to the vision for the road, where from top to bottom, every few steps, there’d be something to see, do or eat.
Jonny believes the road needs considerably more than it currently has, particularly in terms of retail and quality public spaces and is currently engaging the City on the under-utilised public space on the corner of Gordon and Florida. “There’s not enough to do in Gordon Road Park. Public space has to address two issues: how does it feel, and what do you do when you are there?” The vision includes a little amphitheatre with a massive screen for key sports games, free Wi-Fi, a giant eight-man table tennis table, underground parking and more.
The City has numerous plans to assist with the road’s flow and walkability. They’ve removed the ratio of parking per restaurant, and construction on a turning circle at Lambert and Florida begins in the next few weeks. “Plans include reducing the traffic lanes to one each way throughout the whole street, interventions to the sidewalks to extend them outwards for more alfresco street-side dining, more pedestrian space, better lighting and street furniture. There’s also a vision to open up parking in parallel and linking adjoining streets, which would add 500 to 600 more bays, all with increased lighting and UIP presence.”
Florida Fields, another Urban Lime project, towards the top end of the road, is proving a keen drawcard as a privately owned public space. Twenty retail tenants and around 3,000m2 of office space around convivial gardens, have come alive with people, music and eateries throughout the week. “Durban needs catalytic developments to woo and retain young people, as well as re-engaging with all those who’ve moved north,” Jonny says. How about a cable car? Oh yes. It’s a proposition being taken very seriously: a network of cable cars linking Durban’s key public spaces… The Point, South Beach, North Beach, and Florida Road. The sky really is the limit here.
- Gorgeous: high-end fashion
- Supreme: super-hip street wear, t-shirts, caps and accessories
- House of Bravo: no-waste eco-grocery store
- Cecile & Boyd: delectable decor
- Elizabeth Gordon Gallery: art
- Quarters Hotel: luxe accommodation, dining and bar
- The Benjamin: lovely old-school service in a 42-room boutique hotel setting with pool and courtyard
- Bon Hotel 64 on Gordon, Gordon Road: 35 comfortable rooms
- Lembali Lodge, Montpelier Road: upmarket guest lodge
- Charlie’s Bistro and Café: opposite Mitchell Park
- Spiga D’Oro: new home for Spiga, opposite Mitchell Park
- Jack Salmon: seafood and steaks at Florida Fields
- Bird & Co: roast chicken every-which-way
- Seed and Glamwich: healthy dining options at Florida Fields
- Two & A Half Men: purportedly the best Hilal Bunny Chow in Durban
- Barn Owl, Florida Fields: little permanent pop up for coffees
- Lupa Osteria: Homemade pasta and thin-crust, wood-fired pizza
- Istanbul: newly opened Turkish dining
- Roti & Chai: a market favourite opens their first permanent tea spot
- Drop-Kick Murphys: one of the oldest operators on the road, great burgers
- Republic: grass-fed beef burgers
- Paul’s handmade ice cream: Nutella, Oreo and a whole host of innovative flavours
- Bohemian Beach Bumz: cannabis-infused coffee, juices and edibles
- Romano’s ice cream: gelato and creative desserts
- Love Coffee: wonderful little coffee shop with alfresco seating
- Sugarlicious: macaron ice-cream sandwich parlour
- Scoop: Ice cream made with all local dairy
- Charlatan: specialist cocktail bar with light dining options
- Falafel Fundi: at the bottom of Florida with wonderful falafel
- Dukka: elegant fine-dining restaurant